On the Making of Children’s Books with Kenneth Kraegel | A Breathe Conference Retrospective

Let’s continue the Breathe Conference experience together.

9780763653118On Friday, I spent my first two sessions with Candlewick Press author, Kenneth Kraegel. Kenneth wrote King Arthur’s Very Great Grandson, as well as the soon-to-be-published The Song of Delphine. Both sessions were (very) great and gave me plenty of ideas for publishing my long-awaited, barely anticipated Thom and Tom series.

The first session was titled “Children’s Books 1: Nuts and Bolts of Picture Books.” This was the description:

Discuss the many elements involved in making a picture book—writing the text, finding a publisher, working with an editor, understanding how an illustrator fits into the process, promoting your book.

That was a lot to tackle in an hour, but Kraegel rose to the task. Here are a few of the things I learned:

  • There are two main types of picture book authors.
    • Authors who are not illustrators
      • These folks start with the story
      • The publisher chooses the illustrator (It is frowned upon for the author to suggest an illustrator unless there is a compelling reason (like marriage) to do so)
      • Advances and royalties are split between the author and the illustrator
      • Manuscripts are submitted with the words only, images suggestions are sparing and indicated by brackets within the text
      • Examples – The Relatives Came & Button Up
    • Authors who are also the illustrator
      • These folks can start with either story or images
      • Advances and royalties go to just one person
      • Manuscripts are submitted as a “book dummy” – a black & white sketch book with typed text, either physical or in pdf format
      • Examples – Dr. Seuss & Mo Willems
  • Children’s books are typically 32 or 40 pages (or rarely larger by 8 pages at a time), though with endpapers and paste down pages, the copyright info, title page, and story only take up 26 or 34 pages
  • Most children’s books are 1000 words or less
  • Current trends lean toward very sparse sentences
  • There is no standard page size for children’s books (each publisher sets their own rules)

748879The rest of Kenneth’s presentation was practical across the publishing world. Things like: do your research on a publisher before submitting your manuscript to them, develop a routine for your writing/illustration, treat writing like a job to get into the habit once it actually is one, and make friends with your local indie bookstore in order to have an idea of what is published and what is needed in the marketplace.

After such great information from the first session, I couldn’t help but stick around for the second, “Children’s Books 2: Using a Storyboard to Write Picture Books”

After a demonstration of how storyboards are used, we will create our own and discuss the experience. Artistic ability is not required. Bring a work-in-progress or create a new story in the session.

My work-in-progress was a Thom and Tom story (“The Breadbox of Doom”) that I had in my notebook. Surprisingly, the story came out to the exact length of a 32 page picture book. But now I’m wondering how lucky I’ll be with the rest of the stories in that universe.

With one storyboard under my belt, I’m getting excited about the new publishing possibilities before me. I’ve got plenty of work yet to do in order to get my writing off the ground, but Kenneth Kraegel’s class gave me a kick in the right direction.

Thanks Kenneth!

Now, everyone do yourself a favor and go buy some of his books from an indie bookstore near you!

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I am not above stealing from my daughters

Thom is a squirrel. Thom is invisible. That's kind of their thing.

Here’s some proof that I’m not an artist.

Ideas, that is. I’m not above stealing their ideas. Well, occasionally, I steal a pack of fruit snacks as well. But that’s about it.

So I have this series of flash fiction stories about an anthropomorphic pair of roommates called Thom & Tom. Thom is a squirrel. Tom is invisible. And they have ordinary little adventures that might appeal to a cerebral twenty-something crowd.

I’ve got about sixty of these stories awaiting publication (or an artist who can help bring them to life), but I’m always on the lookout for more. On at least one occasion, I’ve reused a story idea and wrote a story with the same problem but with different outcomes (because I forget a ton about my writing).

The other day, I had my writing notebook out and I was trying to come up with some ideas for new Thom & Tom stories. My oldest daughter asked what I was doing and I decided to exploit her little imaginative brain for my own ends. I told her a little about my characters and asked what sort of story I should write.

Together, we came up with ideas for at least 16 new Thom & Tom stories! True, only a few of the ideas are ones that my daughter told me word for word, but the brainstorming process of doing it together spawned some ideas that I wouldn’t have thought up without her.

Here are a few of the new stories that will need hashed out:

  • Thom can’t stop dancing
  • Tom loses his sense of humor
  • Thom is hypnotized into thinking he is a tiger.
  • Tom gets a pet (possibly a homeless person who does a good pet imitation).
  • Thom and Tom babysit some kid.
  • Thom has to call the plumber for some reason.

Okay, these are some very rough ideas, but they’ll all turn into something I’m sure. And if they do, I’ll make sure that my daughters get a dynamite dedication (just after my lovely wife) at the beginning of my book.

What do you steal from your kids?

50 Words, 1 Character | 4 Examples

The other day, I announced a new Flash Fiction Challenge, but I didn’t give you any examples. Consider this post the remedy for that wrong. Below you will find my 50 word character introductions to the main characters of my last three 3-Day Novel entries plus one that I will be writing soon.

If you haven’t done so already, check out the challenge and enter your own 50 word character description!

Daniel O’Ryan – Fathered by a demon, raised in an orphanage, and more powerful than he knows, Daniel O’Ryan is about to start his freshman year at a new school, the prestigious Blackwood Academy. But when his powers begin to manifest, Daniel must decide who he truly is, man, demon, or something more?

Ezra Stone – Ezra Stone blames the Union for his wife’s death in the birthing center. If only he could have been with her, he might have done something. But laws in the silent society dictated that she go alone to sound-proof facility. Soon, Ezra’s grief will make itself heard around the world.

Quentin Roosevelt – Youngest son of President Theodore Roosevelt, Quentin is eager to get into the Great War. But when his bi-plane is downed over France, Roosevelt is given the chance to fight an even greater war. Faking his death, Quentin sets out for the mysterious artifacts that grant mastery over time itself.

Connover Swofford – It seems that everything Connover Swofford wants, someone else gets. But when his depression hits a new low, and his successful co-worker commits suicide, Connover realizes that it isn’t just the good things that happen to those around him. Can he use his new-found powers to improve his own lot?

A Call to Artists | Can You Draw a Squirrel?

I have written like 50 flash fictions stories that revolve around a squirrel and his invisible roommate. I’ve passed them out to friends and critics and have received positive feedback. But one thing nags at me.

I feel like the stories need some sparse illustrations. Just simple black and white pen drawings.

More like this.

Less like this.

I’ve heard that the stories don’t need illustrations, that they are strong enough to stand on their own merit. But I like the idea of random pictures.

If you have any skill with drawing, please contact me here. If you know someone who can draw, have them send me a drawing of a squirrel. That’s all I need.

Why would you do this? Because I have a product that is ready for pitching but for this one last detail. And unfortunately I can’t draw worth a toot.

I am a husband. Part II

A while back, I was inspired by a series of posts that Jessie Clemence had done on her blog and I interviewed my wife. That interview has proven to be one of my most popular posts over time, which makes sense, because my wife makes everything better.

Well, anyway, she and I were chatting about ideas for blog posts and she asked if I would consent to her interviewing me. I did. Here are her questions and my answers.

What are you looking forward to most about being a father of two?

I love being a parent and seeing you (my wife) as a parent. Our daughter is simply adorable and I can’t wait to see another little girl who is half me and half you (my wife again). Also, I’m looking forward to seeing how Adie is with her sister.

What other hobbies do you have besides writing?

I collect Lego sets, specifically the viking, adventure, and castle sets. Though I just saw some Lord of the Rings themed sets that make me want to eat my words about how I hate that Lego is going after franchises. I also collect Dr Pepper knock-offs (the regional drinks that try their best to be Dr Pepper without coming anywhere close). My favorite is probably Doctor by the Our Family brand, because it didn’t even bother to come up with a replacement for Pepper like Dr. Thunder, Dr. Nehi, and Dr. M did. Plus, I am a fan of the show Doctor Who, who also goes by simply, the Doctor.

What is something that you do that gives you personal satisfaction or makes you proud?

I am a sucker for praise, especially of any of my creative endeavors. I know that I should care less or not at all what other people think about stuff, but I also know that I’m a born people-pleaser, and it makes me happy to make other people happy. If I can create a thing that gives joy, it will give me joy. It is probably strange then that one of my novels is dystopian and doesn’t end happily. I guess I’m complicated.

If you could be any character from your novels or short stories, which would you be? Why?

I would love to be Tom, the invisible roommate of my Thom & Tom series. He’s such a goofball and doesn’t care what people think about him. He lives by his own rules and whether he intends to or not, brings a bit of joy to his roommate, Thom. Also, he’s invisible, so that’s pretty cool.

If you could make any book you’ve read reality, what would you choose?

I love the idea that M. I. McAllister’s Mistmantle series could be happening for real somewhere, that there could really be an island of chivalrous squirrels, playful otter, bustling hedgehogs, and hardworking moles living in harmony. Plus, many of my other favorite books have some pretty scary bits that I would hate to see in reality.

What is it that, in your opinion, makes you so incredibly awesome?

My wife. She’s the awesome one. You were probably just thinking of her. I don’t blame you. I like to think of her too.

If you could have a super power, which would you choose? Would you let people know about your power or use a secret identity?

I would like the ability to transform one kind of substance into another kind of substance, like iron into gold, or dirt into gasoline. I would be called “The Alchemist”. Unless I had some kind of invincibility that went along with my other powers, I would keep my identity secret. I have a feeling that I wouldn’t be safe otherwise. Plus, my family would always be in danger of being kidnapped for ransom and such. So yeah, a secret identity would be good. I’m not sure how I’d fight crime, but I bet I could give more to charity, and that’s like the same thing.

Do you have a guilty pleasure? What is it?

I very much enjoy the game Diablo II. I know that Diablo III just came out, and someday I’m sure we’ll get it, but at the moment, I don’t know when we’d play.

Do you think watching TV can help or hurt your writing and level of creativity?

I’m a bit torn on this question. I was a the quintessential couch potato growing up, and I consumed a lot of television. As a result, I learned a lot about how stories are put together and about characters that I enjoyed. I would come up with stories and drawings based on what I had seen on television. Today, I watch a couple of shows every few weeks, but I don’t have time for much more. If I were as addicted to television now as I was when I was growing up, I know that my writing would suffer, but more due to the time constraints than to being dumbed down by TV.

What is one things that never fails to make you laugh?

Juvenile bodily functions. Every time.

What is your favorite book of all time?

I have to pick just one? Probably The Hobbit, because of its unique point of view. Not many books can pull off a third person story told by a first person narrator with second person asides.

If you could only use 4 words to describe yourself, what would they be?

Married, Genial, Creative, Inquisitive

What is the best part of being my husband?

The best part is the fact that I don’t have to leave you at the end of the date anymore. When we were dating, I hated going home. Now your home is my home. As far as specifically be married to you though, I love that you are good at things like math and budgets, and that I know I can trust you will all areas of life.

Didn’t my wife ask a bunch of well-thought-out, wonderful questions? I’m starting to think that she should be the one with the blog.

Meet the Cast Tuesday | Mr. Potsibald and Hezekiah

Today, we’ll meet a couple more characters from the Thom & Tom series. In case this is your first time here, my Thom & Tom stories fall into the category of flash fiction, meaning that they are quite short (see an example here). If we wanted to get more technical, they are anthropomorphic in nature, as all of the characters are animals (and one goblin) who take on characteristics of humanity, like speech.

Anyway, enough about literary devices and on to the characters.

This is a chipmunk. It does not sing and dance. It does drink massive amounts of coffee.Mr. Potsibald – Mr. Potsibald is the owner of the Jittery Chipmunk, the local coffee house in town where Thom and Tom enjoy a hot cup of chai. True to the stereotype, if chipmunks can be stereotyped that is, and if a chipmunk stereotype portrays chipmunks as energetic and slightly insane, Mr. Potsibald is energetic and slightly insane. This could be because of his raging caffeine addiction, a condition almost certainly aggravated by the fact that he owns a coffee house.

Hezekiah – Hezekiah is Tom’s imaginary friend. Life certainly can be difficult when you are the imaginary friend of a squirrel’s invisible roommate. In spite of this, Hezekiah seems reasonably well adjusted, or at least as well-adjusted as Tom imagines him to be. Anyway, it would probably be better if you didn’t get attached to Hezekiah, so I won’t give many reasons to love him.

Just out of curiosity…

Flash Fiction | Thom & Tom: Weight for Me

I am taking a week off from book reviews. I hope that’s okay. I haven’t had much time to read lately. Instead, I’m doing something new.

Yesterday, I introduced a couple more characters from my Thom & Tom flash fiction series and I mentioned that I’d share a story. Well, here I am making good on that promise.

Thom is a squirrel. Thom is invisible. That's kind of their thing.

Here’s some proof that I’m not an artist.

Before I post it though, I feel the need to explain the format a bit. My original vision for the series was to be along the lines of an Edward Gorey book, with a picture above each line of text, though each line of my text would have footnotes (like Terry Pratchett does, though he does not do them for every line) and the footnotes themselves would have footnotes.

I’m a terrible artist, so you’ll just have to imagine that there are pictures here. If you are an artist with a knack for anthropomorphic forest animals and you have nothing better to do with your time, give me a jingle and we could make some sweet money together.

Okay then, here we go.

The Misadventures of Thom and Tom: Weight for Me

By Josh Mosey

There once lived a squirrel named Thom.*
*The h is silent, but not invisible.

Thom lived in a tree house with his roommate, Tom.*
*Tom is not silent, but is invisible.

One morning, during his morning ritual*, Thom saw something frightening on his bathroom scale.**
*Thom’s morning ritual consists of: hitting the snooze button twice before turning off his alarm clock, using the lavatory, going back to bed, realizing that he shouldn’t have gone back to bed, taking a shower, weighing himself, eating some breakfast, throwing something at Tom, having a cup of chai, and getting on with his day.***
**It isn’t very nice to be frightened by anything that soon after you’ve woken up.  It’s just not a good way to start the day.
***Getting dressed is not part of the ritual because squirrels don’t wear clothes.  That would be silly.

It was his weight.*
*About 2 lbs. more than normal.**
**Which is drastically overweight for a 1 lb. squirrel.

The first question Thom asked was, “Who do I blame?”*
*An important first question.

Thom immediately dismissed the possibility that he was somehow at fault.*
*Who starts by blaming themselves?**
**Not Thom.

Thom’s next target was the media.*
*Not so much because the media portrays “big” as “beautiful,” but because Thom watches a lot of television.**
**And when Thom watches television, he eats.

But was it just the media’s fault?*
*Thom (and everyone else too) likes to spread the blame around.

Now that he thought of it, the grocery store was having a lot of sales recently.*
*Sneaky grocery store.

But that doesn’t even take into consideration Thom’s friends.*
*Tom is especially bad, with his “let’s see how much food Thom can fit in his mouth” game.**
**Tom likes to play this while Thom is sleeping.***
***Thom doesn’t like to play while Thom is sleeping.

And then a thought occurred to Thom.*
*Two thoughts actually, but only one was relevant to this story.**
**The other thought was, “I wonder how much I would have to pay a stranger to walk around yelling, ‘Free the Colors!’ all day long.  That would be funny.”

Thom thought, “Why not blame the food itself?”*
*Go to the source.

Just then, Tom stumbled* out of his room…**
*Stumbling is just one of Tom’s many talents.
**Tom usually stumbles out about five minutes after being hit with whatever Thom threw at him.***
***See sentence break 3 for more details about Thom’s morning ritual.

And solved the issue with only a few words.*
*A roommate’s abilities are sometimes uncanny.

Tom said, “It’s winter.  I hate winter.”* **
*During the winter, squirrels store up fat reserves so they can survive the season when they cannot find as much food.
**I hate winter too.

The End*
*Of this story.**
**Not the world.***
***I hope.

So, there you go. A real Thom & Tom story. Merry Christmas.